Is cannabis a ‘gateway’ drug? Many anti-drug educators, politicians, or lobbyists will claim that cannabis use leads to harder, more harmful, drug use. But, does this statement hold any weight?
All sources for this article, as well as further reading, are listed below.
What is a “Gateway’ Drug? What is the “Gateway Hypothesis”?
The gateway hypothesis, also known as the gateway drug effect, is a theorized effect that claims the use of a psychoactive drug is coupled with an increased probability of using other types of drugs.
The phrase was popularized in the 1980s within mainstream anti-drug culture, but, the phrase has a history that stretches back to the 1930s. In the 1930s, the gateway hypothesis was known as the escalation hypothesis, progression hypothesis, and stepping-stone theory. For more on the modern history of cannabis, click here.
Is Cannabis a ‘Gateway’ Drug?
Anti-cannabis lobbyists claim, hypothetically speaking, that if cannabis is legalized, cannabis as users will become interested in doing ‘harder’ drugs. This is one reason why cannabis legalization faces many hurdles in many different locations across the world.
According to all of the scientific literature available, it can be safely stated that cannabis is not a ‘gateway’ drug, in fact, cannabis can become an effective treatment for hard drug addictions such as opioids. Although cannabis is not completely harmless, the ‘Gateway Hypothesis’ is not supported by the evidence available and should not be a theory that is involved in any evidence-based debates concerning cannabis and its future legal status.
Is There a Correlation Between Cannabis and Harder Drug Use?
Although the gateway hypothesis has no hard evidence to prove itself, there is a correlation between cannabis use and harder drug use.
“Marijuana use is positively correlated with alcohol use and cigarette use, as well as illegal drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. This does not mean that everyone who uses marijuana will transition to using heroin or other drugs, but it does mean that people who use marijuana also consume more, not less, legal and illegal drugs than do people who do not use marijuana”. Robert DuPont, New York Times.
There are several explanations for this correlation, one being that cannabis is often the first illicit drug many individuals have access to.
The fact that cannabis is so easy to access for many people is actually one of the reasons why the gateway hypothesis has become popular. Cannabis is usually the first ‘illicit’ drug that many see, consume, or interact with, but, alcohol and tobacco use usually come far earlier in an individual’s life. Underage alcohol and tobacco use may, in fact, be the reason for cannabis (and harder drug use) later in life.
Why Correlation vs Causation is Important
Although there may be a correlation between cannabis use and further drug use, “correlation does not imply causation”. What this means is that there is no proven cause-and-effect relationship even though there may be an observed association between the two variables. In this case, cannabis and harder drug use are the two variables.
Several psychological, sociological, and economical factors will also contribute to harder drug use, not just the fact that someone uses cannabis. Although cannabis use does correlate with harder drug use later, so does alcohol and tobacco.
“It is not marijuana use but individuals’ opportunities and unique propensities to use drugs that determine their risk of initiating hard drugs”. (Morral, A.R., McCaffrey, D.F. and Paddock, S.M (2002).
Thank you for reading “Is Cannabis a ‘Gateway’ Drug”. Sharing this on social media by using the icons below helps us to grow and provide cannabis research such as this on a regular basis. All of the sources used in this article are listed below. For more Cannabis 101 articles, click here.
- Boden, J. Fergusson, D. & Horwood, L, J. (2006) Cannabis Use and Other Illicit Drug Use: Testing the Cannabis Gateway Hypothesis. Society for the Study of Addiction.
- Drug War Facts. (2020). Addiction and Dependence.
- Drug War Facts. (2020). Gateway Drug Hypothesis.
- Goode, E. (1974). Marijuana Use and the Progression to Dangerous Drugs. Marijuana Effects on Human Behavior. Burlington: Elsevier Science.
- Gateway Drug Effect. (2020).
- Kandel, D. B. (2002). Stages and Pathways of Drug Involvement: Examining the Gateway Hypothesis. Cambridge University Press.
- Kandel, D. B. & Yamaguchi, K. (1993). “From Beer to Crack: Developmental Patterns of Drug Involvement”. American Journal of Public Health.
- Morral, A.R., McCaffrey, D.F. and Paddock, S.M (2002) Using Marijuana May Not Raise the Risk of Using Harder Drugs. RAND Corporation.
- Moya-Smith, S. (2019). Marijuana is Not a ‘Gateway Drug.’ If Joe Biden Doesn’t Know That, He Shouldn’t be President. NBC News.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana. (2017). An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?
- Nkansah-Amankra, S., & Minelli, M. (2016). “Gateway Hypothesis” and Early Drug Use: Additional Findings From Tracking a Population-Based Sample of Adolescents to Adulthood. Preventive Medicine Reports.
- Causation vs Correlation. (2020)
- Recovery Research Institute. (2017). For Opioid Use Disorder, Does Cannabis Produce Harm or Reduce Harm?
- Secades-Villa, R., Garcia-Rodríguez, O., Jin, C. J., Wang, S., & Blanco, C. (2015). Probability and Predictors of the Cannabis Gateway Effect: a National Study. The International Journal on Drug Policy.
- Vanyukov, M. M., Tarter, R. E., Kirillova, G. P., Kirisci, L., Reynolds, M. D., Kreek, M. J., Conway, K. P., Maher, B. S., Iacono, W. G., Bierut, L., Neale, M. C., Clark, D. B., & Ridenour, T. A. (2012). Common Liability to Addiction and “Gateway Hypothesis”: Theoretical, Empirical and Evolutionary Perspective. Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
- Yamaguchi, K. & Kandel, D. B. (1984). “Patterns of Drug Use from Adolescence to Young Adulthood, Sequences of progression”. American Journal of Public Health.